Personnel: Lindsay Schoolcraft, Dani Filth (vocals); Lucie Korinkova, Linda Nepivodova (alto); Jakub Herzan, Ivan Nepivoda (tenor); Marek Ashok Smerda, Richard Shaw (guitar); Martin "Marthus" Skaroupka (keyboards, drums).
Audio Mixer: Scott Atkins.
Recording information: Avian Recording Studio & Music Lounge, Rousinov, Moravi; KWL Sounddesign, Brno, Moravia, Czech Republic.
Arranger: Martin Skaroupka.
Cradle of Filth's only remaining original member from 1991 is vocalist and songwriter Dani Filth. Before the release of 2015's Hammer of the Witches, this group had essentially become a revolving-door entity personnel-wise and could easily have been renamed "Dani & the Filths." This lineup has been consistent since 2015, though, and it shows on Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay. Hammer of the Witches restored the twin-guitar attack of the early years via the additions of Marek Smerda and Rich Shaw, cutting back -- some -- on the lush Gothic orchestrations and theatrical chorales that distracted from previous albums. Cryptoriana scales those excesses back even further without abandoning them altogether. That said, this wouldn't be a CoF record without theater, imaginative lyricism, and a diverse musical attack, but there is far more metal here than we've heard in a while. Filth's powerful vocal histrionics remain undiminished: His screams, shrieks, and beneath-the-sub-basement, low guttural growls are all in place and move these narratives along with blistering intensity and plenty of black humor and horror film romance. Keyboardist and second vocalist Lyndsay Schoolcraft has become an increasingly important member of this outfit even if she does undersell her contribution. Rounding out the lineup are bassist Daniel Firth and blastbeat maniac Martin Skaroupka on drums. This is the band's most extreme outing since Damnation and a Day, and though it doesn't reach those heights, the stand-out tracks far outnumber the duds. The title track, the wonderfully misnomered "Heartbreakingly Beautiful," and "Heartbreak and Sance" offer jarring blastbeats, galloping Iron Maiden-esque guitar riffing, and a Gothic deluge that recalls the early '90s, but they're musically constructed to reflect extreme music's modern era. The funereal intro to "Vengeful Spirit" finds Filth offering his best glossolalia as a set piece. But clean-throated Norwegian guest vocalist Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy and Leaves' Eyes) joins him, making it a conversation among ghouls as the music's dark swirl and force all but envelop them. "You Will Know the Lion by His Claw" offers a blinding riff and pummeling bassline, and Filth's very best shrieking on the album, as well as another Maiden-esque dual-lead break. Unfortunately, not all is perfect. "Wester Vespertine" and "Death and the Maiden" both work musically, but the arrangements and lyrics in both songs delve too deeply into COF's latter-era trick bag of cliches. All that's forgiven on an amazingly reverent cover of Annihilator's "Alison Hell." Sans the symphonic trappings, it's COF as a full-on metal band with Filth delivering as "straight" a vocal performance as you've heard from him. As a whole, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay is a welcome step further ahead from Hammer of the Witches in its force and economy, and even with its missteps it's a stronger album for it. ~ Thom Jurek